Our adventure started when we booked our tickets a week ahead to Machu Picchu in Lima. The very next day, due to the heavy rain, a landslide demolished the closest town to Machu Picchu including the only bridge wide enough for the cars to pass. It was a huge disaster, people went missing, houses got ruined. Only rumors were available of the access path to Aguas Calientes (tourist town at the bottom of Machu Pichu) some said the train is the only option costing around 200$ for the two of us, so we tried to find some alternative route. We arrived to Cuzco a day before we could enter the Inca ruins, we were hearing of roadblocks and the bridge was still missing. Finally, we got word from a local tour guide, that Santa Teresa is accessible by car, then we can cross the river on a cable hanging over it and then collectivos and taxis are taking people from there. With confidence we left for Santa Teresa the next morning, to see what happens.
Luckily the road was in much better condition than anticipated and totally dry. The last part was a gravel road taking us through beautiful mountain scenery. After asking around for a while in Santa Teresa we found the rumors to be true, the bridge was missing and we had to go on foot. Next up, finding a place for our car. The police said there is no secure parking in town. Eavesdropping on our conversation two local women immediately started bargaining who can offer the cheapest option, so this settled it 🙂 Let’s go to the river! It was around 4 pm at this point and we were still expecting a 2-hour walk next to the rail tracks to Aguas Calientes. Crossing the river we were lucky. that morning locals finished a suspension bridge, so the cable was no longer necessary 🙂 After a short haggling with the taxi drivers on the other side, we were on our way to Hidroelectrica railway station.
It was an easy two-hour walk from there to Aguas Calientes. Quick checking to our hostel, printing the tickets, got some dinner, a hot shower and a few hours of sleep before our planned start at 4:30 am.
We woke up at dawn to pouring rain, but what can you do? Raincoats, then ready to go! A few tourists were already walking on the streets and the bus drivers were starting to get ready as well. The first checkpoint outside the town at the bottom of the hill was opening at 5 am. After matching our tickets and passports we started climbing the well built, rocky, at some point extremely steep stairs. When the light of my torch disappeared in the dark and my coat was soaking in the rain I started questioning our choices, but 12$/person each direction fo the bus would have been 3 days worth of food there, and anyways, we were missing hiking for a while.
By the time we got to the entrance, sunlight was making its way through the clouds. It was still really cloudy but we could feel the difference. Passing the second checkpoint we could finally enter the ancient Inca town. Being among the first people that day who could glance at the ruins was worth all the hustle: the site was practically free of tourists at the early hours.
After taking some photos and wandering around the empty paths, we headed towards Wayna Picchu, the huge summit looking over the ruins. We got the ticket there by 7 am. The climb here was even steeper if it’s possible, but by the time we got to the top, the rain finally stopped. There were still clouds around us, but we could marvel in the surrounding massive mountains and the winding river beneath us. In clear weather, you can see the ruins from up there.
Important: if you buy tickets for Wayna Picchu as well, you can exit the sight and reenter once. Since the ruins are full of one-way paths – and guards are enforcing them – you cannot just turn around to see other parts. We were almost at the exit realizing we missed a few things when they told us to go outside and reenter. And it did work.
By the time we re-entered a few hours later, there were much more people walking around. Having so many tourists after 9-10 am really drags a lot from the experience. Although there are dedicated spots for taking photos, many stop at the pathways and you need to hustle your way through them. It’s better to arrive early 🙂
The availability of the tickets really varies. Some people buy them in Cuzco 3 days prior, but the early entrance is usually quickly sold out. Sundays are free for locals, so it’s usually crowded. It’s worth checking the official website. ISIC international student card is accepted until 25, but cannot be bought online.
On a different note, Aguas Calientes consists exclusively of hostels and overpriced restaurants, it doesn’t worth planing many days there. It was named after the natural hot spring, but we skipped the spa.
Getting back to Cuzco was on the familiar track: walk by the tracks, taxi to the bride and drive safely from Santa Teresa.
All in all, Machu Picchu really is a lifelong experience. It really does look that beautiful like on the pictures and it has a unique atmosphere. Yes, it’s quite expensive but absolutely worth it. It could be easily done if you organize it on your own, but there are lots of tourist offices in Cuzco offering all-included tours. Maybe there are a bit fewer tourists in the rainy season, but there’s a possibility of roadblocks so if you want to make sure, it might be better to choose the dry season.